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Keystone Height’s Ulsch climbs from hole of doubt, despair to graduate with honors

By Don Coble don@claytodayonline.com
Posted 4/20/23

KEYSTONE HEIGHTS – Sam Ulsch thinks about his parents every day. We wonder if they’d be proud of his accomplishments in sports and the classroom. He questions whether they found a way to beat …

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Keystone Height’s Ulsch climbs from hole of doubt, despair to graduate with honors


Posted

KEYSTONE HEIGHTS – Sam Ulsch thinks about his parents every day. We wonder if they’d be proud of his sports and classroom accomplishments. He questions whether they found a way to beat their demons.

So many questions. So few answers.

“I wish they could see how things turned out,” he said. “They missed a lot.”

Sam’s father lost his job as a youth pastor. He didn’t last long as an insurance salesman, either. That’s when both of his parents started down a dark road of substance abuse.

“It got tough early on for my parents,” Sam said. “I’m the oldest with five brothers. Because of everything they had to deal with, (my parents) didn’t make the best decisions. They turned to substance abuse. They made it very difficult for my brothers to be successful.”

Then came the call on Sept. 18, 2018. His parents died instantly in a remote area of Bryceville in Nassau County.

Now a senior at Keystone Heights High, Ulsch will celebrate a rebirth when he gets his diploma. His emotional collapse started before his parents, Phillip and Holly Ulsch, were killed after a logging truck turned in front of them, and they ran into the back of it.

“When I got the news, I bottled up,” Sam said. “I knew my brothers needed me, but the year that happened, I quit all sports. I didn’t try in school. I didn’t put forth much effort.”

Things changed the moment the Indians hired Steve Reynolds as its defensive coordinator. He was promoted to head coach three months ago.

“Well, coach (Lantz) Lowery and I, his weightlifting coach, we spent a lot of time with Sam,” Reynolds said. “And look, Sam makes it easy to want to spend time with because he’s a great kid. He does all the right things. He takes time. And, you know, he puts effort into everything he does. He’s an impressive kid. A person like that has something so drastic happened to them, we just wanted to do everything we can.”

Sam returned to football and weightlifting as a sophomore. He was a three-year starter in football and a member of two state-winning weightlifting teams.

He is also the Senior Class Secretary and is close to earning his Associate’s degree from Santa Fe College in the dual-enrollment program.

“I was mourning my parents’ loss, but I had to find a way to get around that,” Sam said. “I started to move along. I got back into sports. In my sophomore year, I started taking school serious. I took (advanced placement) classes. I got my stuff straight.

“I give all the glory to God, but I wouldn’t be where I am today without the people around me.”

“I’m going to miss him terribly when he graduates,” Reynolds said.

Reynolds said he plans to stay at the school as long as there’s a Ulsch boy in the pipeline. Ben Ulsch will be a senior next year. Other brothers are currently in seventh grade and ninth grade.

“I’ll be coaching an Ulsch until I retire,” Reynolds said. “There’s three more here, and there’s two more across the street (at Keystone Heights Elementary).

“I fully anticipate coaching up those kids until I retire.”

“My brothers are doing well,” Sam said. “They are my best friends.”

And like their big brother, they will have questions, too.